The elderly refuse to let age stop them from taking the wheel.
Retired teacher Michael Kay Ng Fook, 78, has been driving for the past 60 years, and does not see himself taking a backseat anytime soon. Kay’s wife stopped driving a decade ago due to eyesight problems. So Kay drives her around, and occasionally sends his two granddaughters to school and college.
“In fact, I feel like a taxi driver,” joked Kay, a father of four.
Nevertheless, he is happy to play the role of “taxi driver” in the family as it gives him a sense of competence and independence. Kay has been driving around in his Toyota LE for over 30 years. The car was a gift from his son.
“Driving is so convenient, especially during an emergency. You don’t have to depend on others for a ride,” said Kay who hails from Segamat, Johor.
However, he strongly feels that seniors should stop driving when they are deemed unfit due to health problems or poor eyesight. “One shouldn’t drive under such circumstances to avoid hurting others,” he pointed out.
Driving is second nature to Kay who used to compete in motor rallies during his younger days. “Those were challenging days,” Kay recalled.
In 1969, he participated in the 1st Asian Highway Rally from Laos to Singapore. In 1977, Kay and three others took part in a motor rally from London to Sydney. The 61,155km journey took two months. Kay was co-driver in the team of four which included a navigator and a mechanic.
“Eighty-one cars took part in the rally but only 47 arrived in Sydney,” Kay added.
He also took part in the 1980 Himalayas Motor Rally. Some rallies took Kay to dirt trails through rubber and oil palm estates, and even dense jungles. Once, he had to push his car across a wide river during a flood.
“Taking part in a motor rally is always thrilling. With timed routes, we had to drive quite fast to avoid penalty points,” he said, and added that he would not mind taking part in a motor rally at his age.
Safe and sound
Antony Sobey, 76, considers himself a good and safe driver. He admitted there were a few mishaps in the past, but they were nothing serious. Sobey was involved in an accident some 30 years back. He was heading home after work on the night of the crash. It was around midnight and there were few cars on the road.
“A car came onto my side of the road at a bridge crossing. I couldn’t swerve as there were stone walls on both sides of the bridge, so I braked,” he said.
The oncoming car crashed into Sobey’s car. Sobey escaped with a few scrapes, while the other car was badly dented in front. The driver was a doctor on his way to treat a patient. Sobey drove his car home that night, but he was not sure if the doctor ever made it to treat his patient.
His wife, Shirley, a former secretary, said: “You need eyes in front, at the back and sideways when you are on the road. Malaysian drivers are not very polite. I wish they would stop changing lanes so they can go faster. Some drivers do not use their indicators. Motorcyclists are just as bad; they seem to appear from all corners.”
At the helm
For vintage car enthusiast C.T. Balan, his red convertible Sunbeam Alpine is his pride and joy. Balan bought the second-hand car when he was 50, and he has kept it in tip-top condition since. “It’s the same marque as the blue convertible in the James Bond movie, Dr No,” said Balan.
The 62-year-old is managing director of a driving school, Safety Driving Centre Sdn Bhd, which he set up 40 years ago. “Seniors can drive at any age, but they must make sure they are in good health and have good eyesight and reflexes,” said Balan. “There’s no age limit on driving in Malaysia. You can even drive when you’re 80, as long as you’re fit.”
Senior drivers, he cited, are careful and courteous. One rarely hears of the elderly being reckless on the road. “In some countries such as Hong Kong, once a person reaches 60, they have to undergo a medical test (for eyesight and reflexes) and a simulator test every five years before their licences are renewed.”
Balan points out an interesting fact: Women in their 50s and 60s are turning up at his school to learn driving.
“They often sign up for 30 or 40 hours of driving lessons. For some, it’s a refresher course. They have a driving licence but have not driven for years as their hubbies had been driving them around. Now that their hubbies are unable to do so for health reasons or failing eyesight, they have to take the wheel for a change.”
Balan also owns an Audi which he drives to work. Twice a month, Balan and a few friends would drive their vintage cars outstation for a weekend retreat.
“All cars need to be driven every day. If a car is not used for four months, it may develop technical problems. I drive my sports car on weekends to keep it in good condition,” said Balan.
A father of three, two of his children are helping him run his driving school.
Balan’s antique Sunbeam has been used by wedding couples who wanted to add a touch of glamour to their big day. It has also been driven to events such as anniversaries and birthday dinners.
For actor and producer JD Menon, 59, his car is like his second home.
“I don’t have fixed working hours,” said Menon. “Driving allows me the freedom to be on the go whenever new productions crop up. After rehearsals, I can return home well after midnight when there are no buses or LRT services available.”
Driving also allows him to go to remote places when there are shootings or performances.
“How do you get to these places if you don’t drive?” he asked.
Menon does not see any issue with senior drivers. “They tend to be more careful and courteous on the road. They let you cut queue and don’t get upset over it.”
In his one-car household, Menon is the designated driver. “My wife, a homemaker, does not drive. My son, 22, has a learner’s licence and my daughter, 18, is taking up driving.”
Have wheels will travel
In Tan Joo Koo’s household, everyone drives.
“We can’t leave home without a car as the nearest bus stop is 1km away,” said the 60-year-old technical manager of a construction company.
Tan’s job sometimes requires him to drive outstation to Perlis, Johor or the East Coast. Tan, who is based in Kuala Lumpur, has driven to Penang and back in one day.
Tan’s wife who is in her 60s, also drives to work. Likewise with their two adult children.
Tan feels that as long as senior citizens are healthy and able to move around, they should be allowed to drive.
“I have a friend whose mother was driving until the age of 87. She has since passed away,” said Tan.
In his years of driving, Tan has never encountered any road bullies. He obviously enjoys driving, and hopes that his trusty four wheels will continue to take him places for many years to come.